Murray Fredericks on Nothing on Earth

21 June, 2013 by Emily Blatchford

Murray Fredericks is not your ordinary photographer.

Instead of seeking out beautiful subjects or breath-taking structures, Fredericks prefers to photograph emptiness. 


Audiences were invited to view how Fredericks works in the award-winning 2009 documentary Salt, which saw filmmaker Michael Angus follow Fredericks on his journey to Lake Eyre. 

Now the pair have done it again, making numerous trips to Greenland for Fredericks' latest body of work.The result is captured in Nothing on Earth, a 58-minute documentary that opened at the Sydney Film Festival on July 9 to sell-out crowds. 

It has taken Fredericks six trips to collect enough quality material to form an exhibition, but the photographer maintains it was worth it. 

“For me it’s the visual quality of the landscape,” Fredericks says. “My work for the last 10 or 15 years has been concerned with landscapes devoid of features. After my work with the salt plains of Lake Eyre, I thought there was more to do, but there aren’t really many other places like it. Ice sheets seemed to be the natural extension. 

“But I wasn’t expecting it to be as challenging as it was. It wasn’t until the fourth trip I got any meaningful results.

“It was impossible to stop because I hadn’t achieved what I wanted to achieve. I’ve just come back from the sixth trip now since the film was finished, and the fourth, fifth and sixth trips have been better and better in terms of production of the work.” 

So what exactly were the challenges Fredericks and Angus faced while they were shooting?

“Most of them were to do with the extremities of the climate, and the effect that has on the resources of the project and your own physical resources and the amount of time you have,” Fredericks says. “Once you finish keeping yourself alive, the amount of energy you have for creative pursuits is running low.

“When you’re working in Australia you cook your dinner three times a day and the rest of the time is yours. In Greenland, I spent 14 hours a day just maintaining the camp, and though that still leaves a few hours left they’re exhausted hours.

“It’s the strain of getting used to working in that climate.”

It became apparent to Fredericks he couldn’t do it all on his own. 

“A portion of the work I had to hand over to someone else,” he says. “The first person I employed didn’t work out. She was a very talented and well qualified girl from Canada. She had completed the most advanced snow and rescue course in the world. But the lack of physical work sent her spiralling into depression. So I ended up looking after her, and it ended up that there was effectively no work – actually totally no work – being done.” 

There were other, more dangerous obstacles that came across Fredericks’ path as well – one of these being in the form of polar bears. A couple of times Fredericks had received warnings that bears were in the vicinity of his camp.

“I was very clear, very calm – it’s not like a car accident kind of adrenalin – it all just happens… it’s a force out there that you can’t see. As it transpired the bears never eventuated but there was a night when I hunkered down and got my gun. 

It just so happened that same night there was a storm … I had to get out and dig my tent out from the snow, thinking any minute giant claws were going to rip me apart.” 

Nothing on Earth was released at the Sydney Film Festival on June 9, and will premiere this Sunday June 23 on ABC1 Sunday Arts Up Late at 10.30pm.